Irving Green had an idea every 35 seconds. Laura liked to time him. Sometimes his ideas were about her career, but sometimes they were just about the studio: He wanted to bring in elephants for a party, and offer rides. He wanted to hire a French chef for the commissary to make crêpes. Had she ever had a crêpe? Irving told Laura that he’d take her to Paris for her 25th birthday. They hadn’t slept together yet; Laura hadn’t lied.
But she would also be lying if she said she didn’t see it coming, cresting somewhere on the horizon. She’d heard things about the movie producer’s previous flirtations, including Dolores Dee. There were so many pretty girls around in Hollywood, how could she expect to have been his first temptation? And Laura wasn’t interested in being anyone’s fling. Before anything happened—before Paris, before sex—she would be a star, a real one, and there would be a firm understanding of exactly what was going on. Elsa Emerson hadn’t become Laura Lamont to become someone’s wife, and Irving had promised, though not in those exact words. What he’d actually said had more to do with what he wanted to do with Laura once she was his wife, and they were living in the same house. It made Laura blush even to think about it.
Irving had a part in mind, a movie about a nurse and a soldier. Nothing like the last movie. No dance numbers, no parasols. He told Laura that she would have to dye her hair a good dark brown, the color of melting chocolate.
He wanted to watch the hair girls do it. The hairdressers were used to Irving sitting in on important fittings with the costume designers, but it was unusual for a simple dye job, and it made Laura even more nervous. When Laura told Ginger what they were planning to do, Ginger screwed up her face and shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “You’re a blonde, inside and out. This is just weird.”
But Laura didn’t have a choice and didn’t struggle when Irving led her to the chair by her elbow. “Dark,” he said to the girls, who were already mixing a bowlful of nearly black goo. “Serious.”
“Scared.” Laura had never been anything but a blonde. Dark-haired people stood out in Door County like people who were missing a hand. Almost all of the natives were blond and fair, Norwegian or Swedish blood pumping strongly through their American veins. If she went back now, her mother and father would pause at the door, their hands still on the knob, unsure whether or not to let her in.
She locked eyes with Irving in the mirror. Bright, naked bulbs ringed his face like a halo, which seemed funny. Irving wasn’t an angel; he was a businessman, the first she’d ever really known. Even though Irving was physically small and slight, with his famously bad heart ticking slowly inside him, Laura never thought of him that way—he had the confidence of a lumberjack, or a lion tamer, or a black bear. Laura trusted him implicitly. If he had wanted to dye her hair himself, she would have let him.
“This is going to be good for you,” Irving said. “You have to do it, Laura. I know it, trust me. This is going to be what sets you apart. Think about Susie—that’s a blonde, all surface, all air. You’re something different. You’re better.” He looked to the girls and nodded. “Do it.”
Laura shut her eyes tight and waited for them to start. The dye was thick and cold against her scalp, the way she imagined wet cement might feel. It didn’t take long, maybe an hour. One of the girls, a tiny blonde with rubber gloves up to her elbows, told Laura to open her eyes. First she held out her hand, and Irving took it, giving her fingers a quick squeeze.
“Look at yourself,” he said. “Laura Lamont, open your eyes.” His voice was gentle; he liked what he saw.
Laura blinked a few times, and focused on the stained towel in her lap, her free hand clutching at her dress. She looked up slowly, and by the time she made it to her own face in the mirror, she knew that Irving had been right. Her skin had always been pink; now it was alabaster. Her eyes had always been pale; now they were the first things she saw, giant and blue.
“Wow,” she said, turning her head from side to side. “Look at me.” She covered her mouth with her hands, embarrassed at her own reaction.
Irving was already looking. He bent his knees to crouch beside her chair. “Look at you,” Irving repeated. He kissed her on the forehead, and then on the mouth, and the girls pretended to be occupied in the back of the room. Irving’s lips were stronger than Laura anticipated, and pressed against hers with the force of a man who had kissed many, many women before, and had no doubt in his own abilities. She closed her eyes and made him be the one to pull away.
Once Irving straightened up and ran a hand over his hair, the hairdressers still tittering and chatting and washing things in the backroom sink, he helped Laura to her feet. Laura pulled the hairdresser’s cape off her shoulders and set it down on the chair. She couldn’t take her eyes off herself in the mirror. “So,” she said, shifting her gaze from her own reflection to Irving’s. “Tell me about this part.”